Rohingya face rejection in Indonesia after surge of boat arrivals

By Hidayatullah Tahjuddin and Stanley Widianto

PIDIE, Indonesia (Reuters) - Myanmar's Rohingya face a wave of hostility and rejection in Indonesia, where regional communities say they are fed up of a spike in the numbers of boats carrying the persecuted ethnic minority to their shores.

More than 1,200 Rohingya have landed in Indonesia since November, data from the United Nations' refugee agency (UNHCR) shows, with at least 300 more arriving last weekend.

"There are still many poor people here," said Ella Saptia, 27, a resident of Pidie in the province of Aceh, where people have been sympathetic to the men, women and children among the Rohingya refugees brought by dilapidated boats for years.

"Why should we take care of thousands of Rohingya who cause many problems?" she added. "They have a bad influence. Some of them escape, and engage in sex outside of marriage and drugs."

A spokesperson for the Aceh government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This year the refugees have encountered animosity and threats that their boats will be turned back around.

Last week, protesters on Aceh's island of Sabang removed tents set up as temporary shelters for the Rohingya, images broadcast on local television showed, and threatened to push their boat back to sea.

Babar Baloch, an Asia spokesperson for the UNHCR, said the agency was "alarmed" by the reports, which could endanger the lives of those aboard.

Arrivals tend to spike between November and April, when the seas are calmer, with Rohingya taking boats to neighbouring Thailand and Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia.

"They are too many Rohingya in Aceh," said Desi Silvana, 30, another of those living in the area. "This year there are hundreds, even thousands that have come."

About 135 Rohingya arrivals last weekend have been moved to the office of the provincial governor after a community in Aceh Besar district rejected them, media said.

It is unclear what has sparked the backlash, which also featured on social media.

"I don't want to pay tax if it is used for Rohingya," one user, with the handle trianiwiji9, said on the social platform X, formerly called Twitter. Another described the Rohingya as "parasites".

In a statement on Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo blamed the recent surge in arrivals on human trafficking, and has promised to work with international organisations to offer temporary shelter.

For years, Rohingya have left Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are generally regarded as foreign interlopers from South Asia, denied citizenship and subjected to abuse.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Ananda Teresia in Jakarta; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)